As pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Citrus Springs since 2007, Jess Burton has sought ways to impact his community with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
He is especially dedicated to making a difference in the lives of young students in Citrus County’s local schools through Good News Club. “For many children, this is the only church in their lives,” the pastor said.
Burton was first introduced to Good News Clubs when he attended a club in elementary school as a kid. He began volunteering as a teacher about 15 years ago after attending a fundraising event, sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship, the parent organization of the after-school program.
Now at age 70, he’s been volunteering with the club at Romeo Elementary in nearby Dunnellon for the past decade. He said the clubs are a win-win. Not only do the students hear the gospel, but “these clubs are a lot of fun for the kids.”
Burton thinks Good News Clubs is a “wonderful place for retirees to have a vital ministry,” he said. ‘It’s like you’re serving as surrogate grandparents. It’s the joy of my week.”
Good News Clubs are an after-school program held weekly at elementary schools. The structured program lasts anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours and includes a Bible story and a variety of activities with an evangelistic focus, including prayer time and singing. Participating students must receive parental approval to attend.
Burton serves as CEF’s Florida state president. The organization has been coordinating the clubs in America’s schools for more than 80 years.
Gary Townsend, Florida Baptist catalyst for the North region, said many Florida Baptist churches engage local schools through Good News Clubs. “This is a great Kingdom partnership that works well to the glory of God.”
In Marion County, all but one of the 25 elementary schools have Good News Clubs, said Townsend, adding that First Baptist Church in Ocala has provided CEF with office space for several years. “Throughout this region most of the associations have churches involved in Good News Clubs.”
Working in partnership with CEF “has been a huge blessing for local churches not having to reinvent the wheel,” Townsend noted. “The materials use story form to connect with the children and the gospel is proclaimed. Schools recognize Good News Clubs. Most principals welcome them.”
Having been on a hiatus since spring 2020 due to COVID-19, organizers and volunteers with Good News Clubs are anxious to return to Florida’s elementary schools and share the love of Christ with students.
“We’re pumped and ready to get going,” Burton said. “Some schools are beginning to open back up to visitors now, and more are expected to open in the spring.”
Needing more sponsors
The organization is looking for more church sponsors. All volunteers who serve as teachers and leaders in this program must have background screenings by CEF and the school. CEF provides extensive basic training for all leaders and volunteers.
“I’ve taken the trainings, and they are some of the best Bible teaching training I’ve ever had. I’ve even used some of those teachings in my preaching,” said the Citrus Springs pastor.
While the clubs are great for introducing children to the gospel, Burton said they do not take the place of the church. Instead, they partner with churches to reach local children. When boys and girls make decisions of faith, club leaders share that information with their parents and share with them local churches they may want to consider attending.
The biggest need right now, Burton said, is getting more churches to sponsor Good News Clubs in their neighboring schools.
“We have schools across the state who would like to have a Good News Club. The biggest challenge is finding a church to sponsor it,” Burton said. “Our schools are inviting Good News Clubs and inviting God back in our schools. We just need to recruit more churches to take up these opportunities.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This article was written by David Moore and was originally published by the Florida Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention.